The Anatomy of a Baseball Broadcast
We Took Our Stopwatch to Some Games to Tally Up the Action; 88 Minutes of Standing Around
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By DAVID BIDERMAN
As Major League Baseball's postseason begins Wednesday, the sport's fans are prepping for what they'd call the most drama-packed month of the year—a time when families huddle around the television to see upsets pulled, heroes born and a World Series won.
But let's face it, they're also liable to spend lots of time watching guys standing around during pitching changes, dawdling on the mound or stepping out of the batter's box to perform some idiosyncratic ritual that involves tapping one's bat on one's shinguards.
Breaking Down the Game
Here's a look at what viewers can expect to see in a televised baseball game. Click to expand graphic.
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It all got us thinking: Exactly how much genuine baseball action is there in an average baseball game?
Following the model of a similar study we did about football last season, we reviewed a pair of nationally televised nine-inning baseball games from earlier this season, one shown on Fox and the other on ESPN, and used a stopwatch to break them down into their component parts.
The stopwatch would start when a pitcher lifted his leg to begin his pitching motion. The timing would stop when the ball hit the catcher's mitt or, if it was put in play, when the presiding umpire made a call or the players all stopped moving (pickoff attempts and steals were also counted as action).
The result is that during these games, there was a nearly identical amount of action: about 14 minutes. To put that in context, that's about 10.9% of the total broadcast time (excluding commercials). It's a fraction of the roughly 88 minutes the players were shown standing around between plays, nearly 45% more than the 10 minutes of replays that are shown and almost four times as much as the cameras show players lounging in the dugout.
The total 14 minutes of action was about three minutes more action than one might see in a football game, according to our previous study.
Sports producers, announcers, commentators and players generally agreed with our assessment, though there were a few bones to pick. Bob Costas, who has announced games for every major American sports league, thought there could have been "a couple of subsets. Let's be honest—there's action, and then there's meaningful action."
Columnist George Will doesn't think it's possible to figure out a definition of "action" that would jibe with every viewer. "This will drive baseball people crazy because they want to quantify everything, but there are just some things that aren't quantifiable."
So how do the modern games compare with Game 6 of the 1952 World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees—the oldest complete-game broadcast that MLB has in its possession? While the amount of action was roughly similar—about 13 minutes—we tallied only nine minutes and 44 seconds of commercials. The tally for today's games, 42 minutes and 10 seconds, was more than four times as high.
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The Journal study from early this year on NFL games showed several other differences from baseball. While football had 67 minutes of standing-around time—about 21 minutes less than baseball—baseball broadcasts showed managers about one-half the amount of time that football broadcasts showed head coaches, one-sixth the amount of shots showing officials and only half the time that football telecasts devoted to replays.
When it comes to broadcasts in general, "You always have to leave time on the back end of the replays to get to the game," says Ed Goren, vice chairman of Fox Sports Media Group, which shows both MLB and NFL games. "But you don't have much time in baseball, and you can never miss the next pitch."